MAMARONECK, N.Y. —A few weeds have popped up on the fairways, and summer's heat has scorched the grass here and there, but the golf course at the Hampshire Country Club is still tidy and scenic, its little waterfall still burbling through the rocks.
Not that there's anyone around to notice. The Hampshire's 18-hole course on Long Island Sound, along with its tennis courts, pool and restaurant, is closed this year. Members cited rising costs upwards of $25,000 a year for a membership as the roster fell from several hundred at its peak to about 100.
"There was a lot of talk last year about the increasing costs, people not sure what they could pay, the assessments always going up," said Barbara Mines, a member for 15 years who lives in a house on the Hampshire course. "I wasn't really surprised when it closed."
The same thing has happened in recent years at hundreds of other courses nationwide — even in the golf meccas of Florida, Arizona and California — as the economic meltdown and changes in family dynamics combine to threaten club life. Whether it's a $45,000 initiation fee for a private club or a $5 increase in the cost of a round at a public course, the price of a golf habit is giving some duffers pause.
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"It's definitely connected to the economic conditions and the ability of potential private club members to pay the fairly significant initiation fees and annual dues," said Jay Mottola, executive director of the Metropolitan Golf Association, representing 120,000 golfers and 500 golf courses in the New York region.
In 2009, about 140 of the 16,000 golf facilities in the country closed and 50 opened, said Greg Nathan, a vice president at the National Golf Foundation, which represents 4,000 courses nationwide. Mottola said that the industry has lost 100 clubs a year for the past four years. (The figures count nine-hole courses as half a facility.)
Many members who "have had their individual problems with the recession" quit the clubs for financial reasons, Mottola said.
The changing lifestyles of family golfers are also at play.
"It used to be that the man of the house could just say 'bye, honey,' and go to the club all day Saturday and Sunday," Nathan said. "That dynamic has really changed over the last three or four decades."
Since 2005, when it peaked at 30 million, Nathan said there's been "a slow leak" in the number of U.S. golfers, dropping to 27.1 million in 2009 (including anyone over age 6 who played a round). Rounds played were down 2.7 percent in the first half of this year, Nathan said.
In areas of the country where golf is played year-round, many courses were built to raise the prices of new houses around them, said Roger Garrett, a Phoenix real estate agent who has sold more than 150 golf courses nationwide.
Now, with the housing market depressed, a dozen or more golf properties in Arizona are in foreclosure or bankruptcy proceedings, he said.
Clubs are looking at several strategies to lure people back. The private Superstition Mountain Golf & Country Club in Gold Canyon, Ariz., opens one of its two 18-hole courses to the public each day, said general manager Gene Blum. In addition, the initiation fee was slashed from $100,000 to $15,000 as the club went through bankruptcy proceedings.
"It was maybe that or lock the doors," he said.